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Irlen Syndrome*

                         *Irlen logo, information and research credited to Irlen Institute

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Irlen Syndrome is a visual processing problem which appears to be caused by a defect in one of the visual pathways that carries messages from the eye to the brain. This defect causes a timing fault in processing visual information. It is as if the brain was a radio and the frequency selector was not quite on the station so that static interfered with the reception.


Irlen Syndrome cannot be identified through standard psychological, educational or optometric testing. It is not an ophthalmological or optometric problem but may coexist with it. The eyes transmit 70% of the information an individual receives and must be interpreted correctly by the brain.


Any problem in the way the brain processes visual information can cause difficulties in the general ability to function, specifically processing, interpreting and interacting with the environment.

In fact - there is a large overlap of behaviours between ADD/HD and Irlen Syndrome. Many ADD/HD individuals may be mislabelled and be suffering from Irlen Syndrome. They may be observed looking away from the page and daydreaming - “in-attentiveness”. They often rush through activities ignoring careless errors, or apparently “give up” easily. These are coping strategies to manage visual stress. Telling them to pay more attention or keep trying may not be helpful because they are not capable of doing so.

Irlen Syndrome can affect many different areas, including:

  • Academic and work performance

  • Behaviour

  • Attention

  • Ability to sit still

  • Ability to concentrate


These problems can manifest itself differently for each individual... either physically or mentally. This problem is not remediable and is often a lifetime barrier to learning and performance. If you suffer from any of the following, Irlen Syndrome might be your problem:

  • Print looks different

  • Environment looks different

  • Slow or inefficient reading

  • Poor comprehension

  • Eye strain

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Difficulty with math computation

  • Difficulty copying

  • Difficulty reading music

  • Poor sports performance

  • Poor depth-perception

  • Low motivation

  • Low self-esteem

Symptoms of Irlen Syndrome

Light Sensitivity - 

  • Bothered by glare, fluorescent lights, bright lights, sunlight and sometimes lights at night

  • Some individuals experience physical symptoms and feel tired, sleepy, dizzy, anxious, or irritable. Others experience headaches, mood changes, restlessness or have difficulty staying focused, especially with bright or fluorescent lights.

Reading Problems - one or more combinations of the following signs could indicate Irlen Syndrome:

  • Poor comprehension

  • Misreads words

  • Problems tracking from line to line

  • Reads in dim light

  • Skips words or lines

  • Reads slowly or hesitantly

  • Takes breaks

  • Loses place

  • Avoids reading

Discomfort - vision discomfort can manifest itself in many forms:

  • Strain and fatigue

  • Tired or sleepy

  • Headaches or nausea

  • Fidgety or restless

  • Eyes that hurt or become watery

Attention and Concentration Problems:

  • Problems with concentration when reading and doing academic tasks

  • Often people can appear to have other conditions, such as attention deficit disorder, and are given medication unnecessarily.

Writing Problems:

  • Trouble copying

  • Unequal spacing

  • Unequal letter size

  • Writing up or downhill

  • Inconsistent spelling

Other Characteristics:

  • Strain or fatigue from computer use

  • Difficulty reading music

  • Sloppy, careless math errors

  • Misaligned numbers in columns

  • Ineffective use of study time

  • Lack of motivation

  • Grades do not reflect the amount of effort

Depth Perception:

  • Clumsiness

  • Difficulty catching balls

  • Difficulty judging distances

  • Additional caution necessary while driving


  • Words on the page lack clarity or stability; i.e., may appear to be blurry, moving, or disappear (see figure 1.2)

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Figure 1.2 distortion examples

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